Biography | Bibliography
“It is hard to overstate the influence Stieglitz had on photography as an art in America. Through his own images, writings, publications, and galleries, and by the sheer power of his personality, he gave strong impetus first to pictorialism at the turn of the century, then to its successor, ‘straight’ photography.
The son of prosperous German immigrants, Stieglitz … spent his youth in New York City, then in the early 1880’s went to Germany to study mechanical engineering at Berlin’s Technische Hochschule. He began to photograph in 1883 and later wrote of his first camera: ‘I bought it and carried it to my room and began to fool around with it. It fascinated me, first as a passion, then as an obsession. The camera was waiting for me by predestination and I took to it as a musician takes to a piano or a painter to canvas’ (quoted in Bry , p. 9). The intensity of these early feelings about photography were typical of Stieglitz throughout his life. His first official photographic recognition came in Europe, including a first prize (awarded by P. H. Emerson) for genre work entered in an 1887 competition.
In 1890 Stieglitz returned to New York, and after several disillusioning years in a commercial photoengraving enterprise, he left the world of business to devote himself to promoting photography as an art form. He had been an editor of American Amateur Photographer, and in 1897 founded and edited Camera Notes, the journal of the Camera Club of New York. In 1902 Stieglitz established the Photo-Secession, a group of the leading pictorial photographers of the day, and so that he would be free to exercise the control he felt was essential to his editorial efforts, he founded and published its influential quarterly Camera Work. In 1905 he opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (later known as the ‘291,’ for its address on Fifth Avenue), the first of a series of galleries – including The Intimate Gallery and An American Place – that he maintained until his death. At these galleries he exhibited photography and modern art, and avant-garde artists from all fields found challenge, encouragement, and like minds.
Although Stieglitz showed and published soft-focus pictorial photographs by others, his own work (with a few early exceptions) had always been straight, unmanipulated imagery. When he first began to photograph New York in 1892, he actually worked in the fog or rain to achieve the same atmospheric effects that other pictorialists produced with soft-focus lenses or handwork on the print.
Stieglitz’s subject matter was varied… He eventually came to believe that his photographs could be metaphorical equivalents of his internal feelings. “I have to have experienced something that moves me, and is beginning to take form within me, before I can see what are called ‘shapes.’ Shapes, as such, mean nothing to me, unless I happen to be feeling something within, of which an equivalent appears, in outer form…. My cloud photographs, my Songs of the Sky, are equivalents of my life experience. All of my photographs are equivalents of my basic philosophy of life. All art is but a picture of certain basic relationships; an equivalent of the artist’s most profound experience of life” (quoted in Norman , pp. 36-37). Stieglitz promulgated the idea that a straight, unaltered photograph could be a means of personal expression and thus helped to confirm as art the work of Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, and other photographers in the straight style that dominated photography as an art in the 1920s-1960s period.
Stieglitz’s charismatic personality and his uncompromising rejection of anything that did not meet his standards have made him almost a mythic figure in the history of photography. In his own words: “I was born in Hoboken. I am an American. Photography is my passion. The search for truth my obsession” (quoted in Green, Camera Work, p.341).1
1From Lee D. Witkin, and Barbara London, Selected Photographers: A Collector’s Compendium, The Photograph Collector’s Guide, Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979, 243-4.
Jay Bochner, An American Lens: Scenes from Alfred Stieglitz’s New York Secession, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005.
Doris Bry, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer, New York: New York Graphic Society, 1965.
Graham Clarke, Alfred Stieglitz, New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 2006.
Daniell Cornell, Alfred Stieglitz and the Equivalent: Reinventing the Nature of Photography, New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 1999.
Waldo Frank, Lewis Mumford, Dorothy Norman, Paul Rosenfeld, Harold Rugg, America & Alfred Stieglitz, Mechanicsburg, PA: The Literary Guild, 1934.
Sarah Greenough, Juan Hamilton, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographs and Writings, New York: Callaway Editions, 1983.
Sarah Greenough, et al., Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and his New York Galleries, Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2000.
Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz, Volumes 1 1886-1922, Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art; New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.
Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz, Volume 2 1923-1937, National Gallery of Art, Washington and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.
William Innes Homer, Alfred Stieglitz and the American Avant-Garde, New York: Little, Brown & Co, 1977.
William Innes Homer, Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession, New York: New York Graphic Society, Boston: Little Brown, 1983.
Therese Mulligan, Eugenia Parry, and Laura Downey, The Photography of Alfred Stieglitz: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Enduring Legacy, Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 2000.
Weston J. Naef, The Art of Seeing: Photographs from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978.
Weston J. Naef, The Collection Of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers Of Modern Photography, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978.
Dorothy Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: A Talk ( Center for Creative Photography ), Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1976.
Alfred Stieglitz, Alfred Stieglitz: Camera Work: The Complete Illustrations 1903-1917, Koln, Germany: Taschen Books, 1997.
John Szarkowski, Alfred Stieglitz at Lake George, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.